Nike launched their Find Your Greatness campaign in 2012 to remind us that “it is not just the championship athlete or record breaker that aspires to push their limits. It is also the everyday athlete who strives to excel on their own terms, to set and realize personal goals and achieve their own defining moment of greatness.” Goals differ from runner to runner, but the hard work and sweat required to reach the loftiest of ones stays the same.
Ellen ran a 3:35 and change at the New York Marathon in November, not intending to get so close to a BQ. Knowing she was capable of running faster, especially since NYCM is a relatively more difficult course, she attempted to in Vancouver at the beginning of May. Unfortunately, the stars weren’t aligned that day and she struggled toward the end of the race. I think that Ellen is like me in that she gets into her head when focusing too much on a goal. I also think that although this works well in some aspects of life, it can be detrimental during a long distance race. She chalked the Vancouver race up to a long training run and decided that she would recover, train a bit, and then try again. Cristina and Ellen chose the San Diego Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon for the second go and invited me along to make it a girl’s trip! Our plans were to enjoy a fun and relaxing 2 days in beautiful San Diego and to finish a marathon together.
I squeezed an easy 5 mile run in on Saturday before E & C picked me up. We arrived at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, checked into a room with a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean, and then walked right next door to the San Diego Convention Center for the expo.
I have to say, Rock ‘N’ Roll/Competitor Group hosts a phenomenal expo. As both an industry professional and runner, I was very impressed with everything from the aesthetics to the goodie bag items. The Brooks-branded participant shirts fit well and were of good quality, plus the design was cute. There was an area to try on the finisher’s jackets (which we would receive after the race), and a shirt exchange area for the participant shirt. The number and quality of expo vendors were both impressive as was the number of samples that the three of us ingested. The expo felt busy and exciting, but not overly crowded. Bonus: we happened to be near the PowerBar booth when Meb was there!
While perusing the official merchandise, we decided that we would run as triplets on Sunday. Our outfits: black shorts, Brooks Ghost tank tops, and California Run trucker hats by Bic Bands.
With bags and bellies full of sample snacks and feelings of excitement for the next day’s race, we headed toward Little Italy for dinner at Monello. Since we had plenty of time before our 6:00pm reservation, we enjoyed a leisurely 1.5 mile walk to the area. It’s generally advised to rest the feet the day before a marathon, but the San Diego weather was too great, so we walked back too with a stop at Jimbo’s for chocolate covered almonds and raisins. Back at the hotel, we laid out race outfits, set alarm clocks, and tried to keep the pre-race nerves at bay.
I didn’t sleep very well, but woke up alert and excited for our adventure! Alberto was kind enough to drive us to the start line, which was a huge help because I’d heard that parking would be difficult. We arrived near the start line at about 5:30am and immediately got into line for a porta potty. Business was taken care of and after a stop at gear check, we entered a packed corral #3 and waited for the 6:15am start. I learned a few new-to-me facts about the San Diego Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon during the pre-race announcements: it is the original race in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon Series, started as only a full marathon in 1998 and the half was added in 2010, and hosted 30,000+ participants this year.
Our start was more exciting than we’d anticipated as we ended up being at the very front of wave 4 and “leading the pack” for the first few feet. I’m hoping for some epic start line pictures! The three of us settled in after a few miles and Cristina and I kept tabs on our mile splits. The loose goal was to run each mile in ~8 minutes.
The half and full marathon runners start together, so the first 9 or so hilly miles through North Park and Normal Heights feel like a mosh pit. We were all breathing easily and the conversation was flowing.
We passed a group of big guys wearing wigs and balloon boobs cheering for Team in Training, residents enjoying their morning cup of coffee while spectating and cheering us on, and awesome bands. Warm temperatures had been forecast for the day, but the sun stayed tucked behind the cloud cover. It was shaping up to be a good race.For some reason, I always look forward to the half and full marathon course split. I feel a sense of camaraderie with my fellow full marathoners like “no turning back now, we’re in this together!” After the split (mile ~10), we ran through Hillcrest, Mission Hills and Old Town. At mile 12, I ducked into a porta potty for the second time during the race (#1 was around mile 6 and resulted in a 1 mile sprint to catch E & C). I’m not sure what was causing my GI distress, but it was a non-negotiable pit stop.
This forced me to sprint 3 full miles to catch the girls, including a downhill stretch during which I clocked a 6:17 mile. Miles 15-19 took us around Fiesta Island and wasn’t our favorite section of the course. We were getting into the tough miles of the races, but still running well.
At mile 19, we were passing runners going into mile 14 and feeling happy that we had 7 miles to go versus 12! Miles 19-21 were on Friars Road and the three of us were mentally preparing for the dreaded 163 freeway, a well known section of this course. We saw Alberto for the 5th time on course taking pictures of us – thank you Al!
Miles 21-22.5 were both epic and terrible. Running on the actual freeway was a neat experience. Vehicles on the opposite side honked for us and there was plenty of course support. However, it was a long, grinding and relentless incline. At one point, I thought I saw the “top” and told Ellen that we were almost there. When we reached that point, I realized that it wasn’t the top nor was it anywhere near the apex. While most around us were slowing or walking, the three of us kept our pace steady. Once we did finally crest the climb, I needed to make another bathroom stop, resulting in one final mile-long sprint. After running 23 miles, this one was painful. I was nervous that I wouldn’t catch them before the finish line, but dug deep when I saw the matching tank tops right around mile 25. We were going to finish this together.
We got down to business with the finish line less than 1 mile away. Cristina gave me expected finish time updates and we both knew that if we kept running at our current pace, Ellen would PR and BQ. As the crowds thickened and the cheering become more intense, I started to get really excited. Cristina and I were yelling “she’s going to Boston!” to the spectators. We made a right turn onto 6th Avenue, a left turn onto Ash Street, and then saw the finish line. With one final kick, Ellen, Cristina and I crossed the line together in 3:28. I had to fight back tears – I was so excited for and proud of Ellen.
We received our medals and ambled around the post-race area, eventually finding the finisher’s jacket booth and picking my gear bag up. Ellen called her family to tell them where she would be in April 2017.
On our way out, we stopped at the awards ceremony and watched Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg receive their 1st and 2nd place awards for the half marathon. They both PR’d with 1:07 and 1:09 respectively. We were hardcore girl-fanning.
We chattered excitedly about the race and about Boston during the entire walk back to the hotel. We were ready for food after three quick showers and decided upon The Hopping Pig in the Gaslamp District for our post-race celebratory lunch and libations. Delicious burgers and tacos were followed up with dessert at Extraordinary Desserts in Little Italy. Alberto met up with us and we all chose a dessert to share: a square of chocolate cheesecake, a lemon bar, one vanilla custard pithivier, and a vegan chocolate cookie (which was everyone’s favorite, surprisingly). We left San Diego satiated and elated.I am so proud of Ellen for pushing her limits, not losing hope after trying and failing, working hard to extend the reach toward her goal, striving and sweating, reaching the goal, and achieving her defining moment of greatness. Friends can support, lend advice, and encourage, but the runner puts the miles in and does the work completely on their own. Watching Ellen finding her greatness this weekend was incredible and unforgettable. She inspired me more than I think that she knows.